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VINE VOICEon 8 April 2010
Isabel Sleaford lives in a dream world filled with characters from novels by Dickens, Scott and Thackeray. She longs to break away from her boring existence as a children's governess and live the exciting life of one of the heroines in her favourite books. When parish doctor George Gilbert proposes to her, she accepts but quickly finds that her marriage isn't providing the drama and adventure she's been dreaming of. George is a good man, but he's practical, down to earth - and boring, at least in Isabel's opinion. After meeting Roland Lansdell, the squire of Mordred Priory, she becomes even more discontented. Roland is romantic, poetic and imaginative - in other words, he's everything that George isn't...

This is the second Mary Elizabeth Braddon book I've read - the first was the book that she's best known for today, the sensation novel "Lady Audley's Secret". Apparently "The Doctor's Wife" was Braddon's attempt at writing a more serious, literary novel, with a plot inspired by Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary". "The Doctor's Wife" is not very 'sensational' - apart from maybe the final few chapters - and although it's interesting and compelling in a different way, if you're expecting something similar to "Lady Audley" you might be slightly disappointed. At one point in the book, Braddon even tells us "this is not a sensation novel!"

The focus of "The Doctor's Wife" is the development of Isabel Gilbert from a sentimental girl with her head permanently in the clouds into a sensible and mature woman. I didn't like Isabel much at all, though I'm not really sure if I was supposed to. Throughout most of the book she was just so silly and immature - wishing that she would catch a terrible illness or some other tragedy would befall her, just so she could have some excitement in her life - although as several of the other characters pointed out, she wasn't a bad person, just childish and foolish. It was sad that her own romantic notions and ideals were preventing her from having any chance of happiness.

I thought some of the minor characters were much more interesting and I would have liked them to have played a bigger part in the story. I particularly loved Sigismund Smith, who was a friend of both George and Isabel, and a 'sensation author' - probably a parody of Mary Elizabeth Braddon herself. Sigismund (whose real name is Sam) is a writer of 'penny numbers' - cheap, serialised adventure stories. His enthusiasm for his work and his unusual methods of researching his novels provide most of the humour in the book.

Due to Isabel's reading, almost every page contains allusions to characters and events from various novels, plays and poems - most of which I haven't read - so I found myself constantly having to turn to the notes at the back of the book (until I decided I could follow the story well enough without understanding all the references to Edith Dombey and Ernest Maltravers).

Overall, this was another great book from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, although not quite what I was expecting.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 May 2014
This is a beautifully written book which stimulated my imagination and provoked me to quite deep thought. I expected a bit of a pot-boiler. Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote over eighty novels, most of them serialised in magazines, and some people have described her as 'the queen of sensation' because of the (for the time) sensational nature of her stories. Her most famous book was 'Lady Audley's Secret'. Actually, this book is quite different from it. Both are enjoyable, but this one is both much more humorous and also more truly tragic. One of the main characters is actually a 'sensation novelist' and M.E. Braddon has fun affectionately mocking the genre by which she makes her living.
The book describes the struggles of an intelligent but emotionally and intellectually neglected young woman to become an adult and cope with the real world. Her struggle is shown with insight and sensitivity and is sometimes quite moving.
The usual themes of a sensational novel of the time are present - death, adultery,dark secrets and terrible betrayal - but there is also (I think) an aspect deeply personal to M.E.Braddon. As a woman who earned her own living, perhaps she wanted to defend and further the rights of women in an age when they did not have as much freedom as men. In particular, she shows how women had to deny and submerge their own identity and longings in order to do their domestic duty to their husbands, since this was regarded as the role of every respectable female. As has often been pointed out, the book is like Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary', though the choices of the heroine are different and therefore, so is the outcome.
Lacking parenting, moral guidance and education, and with a dark secret in the family, Isabel Sleaford can feed her mind only with romantic novels and poetry. As a result, she is full of illusions and unrealistic dreams. She accepts a proposal of marriage from George Gilbert, a doctor. This is not because she finds an intellectual equal in him but because she is discontented working as a governess, longs for romance and he clearly adores her. He is kind and well-meaning but insensitive to her needs and, after their marriage, he bores her. Too immature to value his good qualities, she finds friendships with other men who seem more interesting and exciting. One of these relationships deepens into romantic love and, although nothing of a sexual nature takes place, the naïve Isabel is gossiped about, judged and condemned by her neighbours.
Through terrible and painful circumstances, she matures and her true nature is refined and strengthened through surviving these cruelties. (I find it interesting that Mary Braddon herself flouted convention. She lived with John Maxwell, her publisher, for a number of years because he was married and his wife was in an asylum. Only after her death did Braddon and Maxwell finally marry. I wonder whether M.E. Braddon knew what it was like to be discussed and censured by respectable society).
This is not your average sensationalist novel, although it belongs in that genre. A modern novelist would treat aspects of the story differently, no doubt. However, M.E.Braddon is writing about a topic that she feels deeply and cares about and she does so with intelligence. There are passages in the book that I will remember because of the profound psychological truth contained in them. A worthwhile read!
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on 15 May 2017
Much as I usually enjoy the writing of Mary Brandon, this book is frequently tedious with long rambling discourses which detract from the story and encourage the reader to skip page after page.

The story itself is a good read, but the long passages to be missed interrupt the narrative.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2004
Ignore all the dry-as-dust academic blurb on the cover and in the introduction to this novel, if you take any notice of that you'll be put off reading it, and then you would be missing a treat. In "The Doctor's Wife" Mrs Braddon (never one to be put off "borrowing" a good idea) decided to do her own version of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", and I must admit I had misgivings about this. For a good while it was hard to shake off Flaubert's novel as the stories, for the first half of the book, are so very similar. Isobel Gilbert, like Emma Bovary, is a young woman with a hopelessly romantic outlook on life, fuelled by her insatiable appetite for romantic fiction. She meets and marries George Gilbert, a promising young doctor in a small town in the fictional county of Midlandshire, and soon finds that married life isn't all romance.
About halfway through the book though Braddon's book breaks away completely from Flaubert's. Yes, like Emma, Isobel becomes infatuated with the handsome young local lord of the manor, and finds that he's not exactly immune to her charms either. But whereas Emma is quite hard-bitten and socially-ambitious, Isobel's love of romantic fiction has stymied her development, and she is stuck at the level of being a starry-eyed innocent schoolgirl, unable to cope when her admirer wants to move the relationship onto a more prosaic level.
This book is very Victorian in places and that might put off the modern reader. For instance, the dark sentimentality, the protracted death-bed scenes, the long speeches (where the characters don't seem to be having a conversation so much as "addressing a public meeting", as Queen Victoria once famously said about Gladstone), and Isobel's tendency to start fainting when it all gets too much, can take a bit of swallowing, but bear with it, as this is a really beautiful book. It seems unfair that Mrs Braddon has been dismissed since her lifetime as being nothing more than a Victorian sensation scribbler, a sort of sub-Wilkie Collins. It's unfair because she simply wrote so beautifully, and the scenes in this book brim with life and a deep, wide-eyed understanding of human nature. It's also very moving in parts, most particularly George's final remarks to his wife, which are very moving in their simplicity.
I personally think it's better than "Madame Bovary" simply because, although Flaubert's novel is undoubtedly good, I also found it relentlessly grim. He simply seems to offer no hope for ANYONE! I often admire French authors for their clear-headed lack of sentimentality (Zola for instance), but sometimes they can take it a tad too far! I was annoyed by the somewhat lofty and indifferent analysis of "The Doctor's Wife" given in the intro to my copy. Ignore all that, just enjoy a bloomin' good story!
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on 16 June 1999
Brilliant! This is a wonderful book which I couldn't put down. It's an English adaptation of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" which has far more wit and humour than the original. It's funny, exciting and fascinating. Why on earth has it been out of print for so long?
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VINE VOICEon 14 July 2012
Ms Braddon wrote more novels than you could shake a stick at but she is seemingly wedded to a reputation as a 'sensation' novelist. On the basis of this novel, it is a reputation with which she is ill at ease.

Via the Sigismund Smith character, the author seems at times to be parodying the 'sensation' genre and at other times trying to distance herself from the genre. The novel contains far too much 'showing off' in the form of endless references/lists of everything from the Classics, composers, poets, even to types of ceramics. It smacks of Ms Braddon trying to show she is a 'serious' author.

The truth is that this novel contains long mundane sections which only comes to life when, thankfully, we get 'more plot and lots of it!'. On the surface, it is a love triangle but it is really about the realtionship between teenage doctor's wife Isabel and country squire Roland.

In a 'sensation' version this pits 'a modern Byronic hero' against 'a base coquette' but Ms Braddon offers us a 'serious' version of a vacillating young man and a mere child.

A pleasant, restrained read that got better as Ms Braddon let herself go.
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on 25 August 2013
I "purchased" this book on Kindle because it was the author's reworking of Madam Bovary and yes there are loose connections although the Doctor's Wife is in no way as "Bad" as Madam B.

There is melodrama by the bucket load - as to be expected from Braddon and some nice twists and turns but perhaps no real surprises when great reveals are made and at times the main characters are quite infuriating, but that could have been because I was drawing connections to Madam Bovary.

I found it a slower read than Lady A's Secret, and really had to persevere with it. However, for a non too challenging and somewhat entertaining read, The Doctor's Wife is worth a few hours of escapism.

To give Braddon her due she did keep with a tragic ending to her story - although not the same totally dismal demise of Emma, her husband and their unfortunate child - and even in that there is some whimsy.
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on 23 November 2014
I found it difficult to feel sorry of the female lead, but I am sure that was the idea of the book!
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on 2 August 2008
i love love this book, it is totally gripping and the better each time i read it. It concerns a silly girl really, though you can't help but love and feel for her and her marriage...and subsequent story, i really don't want to give anything away. It is far superior to many books i have read by "popular" authors (austen particularly) and i would highly recommend it - esp to women, not sure men would "get" it....try it and you won't be disappointed
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on 12 May 2012
Tried this on spec because other reviewers recommended it (and it was free). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. M E Braddon is a witty author who makes Austen-ish ironic asides about her characters' foibles, especially their illusions about love, while allowing you to sympathise with their plight. The plot was suspenseful enough to keep me turning the pages and the ending took me by surprise - yes, the story has parallels with 'Emma Bovary', but the conclusion is very different! I liked it so much that I'm now reading her more well-known novel 'Lady Audley's Secret' which is also a great yarn.
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